Madam Walker’s Irvington mansion hits the market

And that has preservationists very worried
February 19, 2017 11:16AM

Madam Walker and Villa Lewaro (credit: David Bohl for Historic New England)

Madam Walker and Villa Lewaro (credit: David Bohl for Historic New England)

It’s a fascinating and unfortunately obscure fact the America’s first self-made millionaire was an African American woman. Madam Walker made her fortune developing and marketing beauty and hair products for black women. And she used her wealth to build a mansion in Irvington — a neighborhood the Rockefellers and Astors also called home. But despite its landmark status, preservationist are worried that Walker’s home is in jeopardy. 

Dubbed, Villa Lewaro, Walker built her 34-room Italianate mansion in 1917. And exactly a century later, the current owners of the home, Harold and Helena Doley, are getting ready to move. And there is fear that new owners might make significant alterations to the home.

“Even though it’s a National Historic Landmark, there’s no oversight or review to stop an external agency to propose changes to the building,” Brent Leggs, a senior field officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the New York Post. “It’s one of the most important women’s history sites — and African-American history sites — in the country.”

Designed by New York’s first licensed black architect, Vertner Tandy, the three-story stucco villa features a tiered terrace leading to a swimming pool, marble floors, an Estey organ and music room. The house was left to the NAACP, sold, used as a retirement home and ultimately fell into disrepair. The Doley’s then acquired the property and carefully restored it, preserving all the original details.

“We would hope that whatever is decided that it’s open to the larger community, so that they can come and appreciate her and what she’s done,” Doley told the Post. They have not announced an asking price. [NYP]Christopher Cameron